Monday, December 28, 2009

From Billions to Trillions



Here's a short clip explaining how we are moving from a world with a few billion of computers to one that contains trillions of computers, up to a point where they are so ubiquitous that they get embedded in the smallest of things. I believe that in the end, we will not be able to distinguish the 'real', unmediated world from digital worlds such as videogames anymore, and moreover, that this blend of the digital and the physical gives rise to a wholly new form of embodiment; one in which we can change physical things, including our own bodies, as easily as virtual things.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I AM



The animation 'I am' by Tronic Studio is some excellent eye-candy, with a message. This spot was created to give animals a voice and put them into our consciousness and conscience. They are depicted as temporary assembled from scrap materials, because that is more or less how we treat them in our urbanized landscapes. We still easily get seduced by technology's newness and in that we tend to 'progressively' forget what we call nature. Nature has become more and more useless in our everyday interactions, so it only remains on the background of awareness in providing a platform for organic life. Thus we are trading an embodied existence for one that is abstracted away from physicality but constituted by symbolic constructions, such as social relationships, the mediasphere, and the self-concept. We connect to static constructions we can give a name to, and give a place in our conscious web of mental associations so they can become social assets, but in that we are alienated from the ongoing and ever-flowing process that that construction is in. We seem to be too much conditioned by structuralism and the linguistic turn in philosophy. In general, people seem stunned by the complexity of the world this view gives us, and have forgotten simple wisdoms such as that everything is in flux and that all boundaries are created by the mind.

But back to the animation. To me, it is particularly well-chosen to depict the animals as temporary constructions without faces, so the focus is not on the character, but on the process of death and rebirth. It makes it clear that any identity is transient and that we all consist of the same things. We are all ghosts, and what defines us is not the form we are in but the potentialities of our embodiment and the stance that we adopt in the process of physical and psycho-spiritual evolution.

Thanks to the excellent blog Spatial Robots for this link.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

turquoise; the color of 2010



So Pantone has selected turquoise out of all colors to be the color of 2010. It reminds us of an escape from the everyday world, its green being psychologically soothing but not in a way that signifies nature as we know it. Also it is not an alien color, but somehow we can relate to it. To me turquoise is a very pure color that signifies a clear state of mind. I would immediately relate it to the aquarian age that is starting in 2012, in which we are said to massively awake to our cosmic purpose and develop a new kind of consciousness, a more integral one where we transcend the perspective of the self. Now are all the aesthetic signs that seem to subtly signify this age pure coincidence or is there a red thread to be discovered?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Eunsuk Hur's lasercut fabric structures



I am promoting the work of Eunsuk Hur, who creates incredibly intricate fabric structures that truly speak for themselves and exude an aesthetic sensitivity that we should all look for in our process of creation. Imagine the beauty that can result when this gets combined with less crude materials and manufacturing processes. She also seems to adhere to the vision that morphing textile structures can support ever more nomadic lives in which people become more embodied with and less dependent on technological environments. This is definitely a designer to keep an eye on if you ask me.

Link: Eunsuk Hur's website

breaktime: an organic fountain symphony




Time for some lunchtime aesthetics. This is the tallest fountain of the world, able to shoot water jets up to 500 feet high. More than that and almost incredibly so, the jets can be individually controlled in terms of direction and power, which together with colored light and music allows the creation of stunning visual patterns.

And this is only traditional aesthetics, where the human is the observer and the artwork the observed. Imagine what effect this can have if the fountain is meaningfully coupled to real time data. Think about weather forecasting data, a representation of people's brainwave activity in the city, cellphone use, voting poll statistics, or maybe each jet of the fountain could be directly coupled to a bystanders' bodily movements, inviting a mass interaction to arise. The possibilities are endless, the technological platform is here, so now the people need to start generating ideas and make it useful beyond just preprogrammed patterns, because no matter how seductive it might be to sit back and passively enjoy the ride, it does not render us any step beyond sophisticated couch potatoes. Gently taking what capitalism produces into our own hands is the way to go, if you ask me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

the technium and Kevin Kelly



Here's an interesting little interview with technology-guru Kevin Kelly, who is currently finishing the first draft of his upcoming book "What Technology Wants". The simple but catchy animation is done by the Dutch agency FreedomLab.

Basically, he discusses technology's cosmic driving force that propels us further in our evolution. He also thinks this process is deterministic, i.e. that it evolves towards an end state, as if it had a single intention.

What i would add to his vision comes from a more psycho-spiritual point of view. I would refine technological determinism by stating that there is no end-state technology wants to evolve us towards, it only seems to be so. Not only that, adopting the stance that there seems to be a technological destiny for us can make us happier, because it gives us a sense of purpose. The thing is, I think that this end state can never be known, that we can only flow along with technology, see what it is in technology that truly makes us see and experience happiness, and find it in moments of interaction with technology. Technology progresses with us towards happiness, and this is not happiness as in a desired object outside of us, given to us by technology, but happiness that is always already here in the moment, which technology can reveal to us. Ultimate happiness lies in perfecting skill wherein you are liberated from yourself and are fully absorbed by the environment, so in the end you become one and do not need conscious thoughts anymore. I think that the purpose of anything is to become obsolete, and that we are supremely happy when everything is obsolete. Thoughts, intentions, reactive emotions, words, expressions, objects, concepts, etcetera. Then we come to be pure nothingness and just flow along with whatever happens, and so to say become manifestations of a cosmic force that transcends our thinking, desiring, feeling, experiencing self. That to me is what both humanity and what technology wants.

Friday, November 6, 2009

James Cameron's Avatar and our transcendent technological future




We all know James Cameron as the director of Epic movies like Terminator, Aliens, and Titanic. After 1997, he devoted himself to one project and waited for the necessary technology to create a 3D production of mind-bending visual quality. The trailer and high-res images look very promising, and it seems like this is a must-see for anyone interested in transhumanism.

The core of the movie definitely seems to be to address the human desire to transcend itself and transform the own body and world into something that seems paradise-like. The narrative is that humans come into conflict with the Na'vi civilization of the exquisitely beautiful planet Pandora. The Na'vi look exceptionally human, although they seem to be an image of perfection as their skin is serenely blue, they are slim and tall and move with an elegantly intelligent panther-like motion. Their faces look in between human and feline, and they even have a tail for optimal balance in striding the fluorescent forests of their planet.

Humans, still masculine-biased as we have always been, use not embodied skill but mostly brute primitive technological force to combat the Na'vi. But weak as our bodies are, we do not develop them but transplant our consciousness into genetically engineered bodies that mix human DNA with that of the Na'vi. This allows disabled people such as the movie's marine protagonist to still fight.

This movie could definitely be the highlight of the year, as James Cameron combines stunning computer graphics with a nice narrative, contemporary themes of science and technology, and the new medium of 3D cinema that at least adds to the experience of immersion. The whole feel of the movie strongly reminds me of a possibly nearby transcendence of human consciousness which is often called the 'Aquarian age'. From a technological point of view, I always envisioned this to coincide with the intimate connection of electronics into the human body and their enabling of the development of high physical skill towards an embodied oneness of mind, body and environment. The Na'vi seem like a projection of this vision, as they live like tribal people but are highly intelligent and wise, both mentally and physically.

I am still critical of the technological component of projecting our consciousness into another body and controlling that with thought/imagination, as also seen in the movie 'Surrogates' earlier this year. I do not think that it will be possible to control another body as well as your own body, or even come close to that amount of control, because there is a gap in embodiment. I will elaborate a little bit on this critical view.

Embodied skill is developed through progressive interaction with objects that our consciousness gets directed at. As we learn, more and more of what we do is embedded into our memory. This memory is both present in the brain as well as in the cells of our dynamical muscle-joint system. Muscles optimize themselves so as to facilitate similar movements in the future with as least possible conscious control from the brain. And conversely, the brain optimizes itself to give minimal commands that produce maximal effects. In the end, the body as a whole needs less and less resources, and is highly coupled to the neocortical brain. If the environment of the embodied being is limited in generating value for that being, the actions will be minimized such as just walking, eating and sleeping. Through endless repetition of the same movements then, the body becomes highly intertwined as a functional whole, and in the end only a minimal brain command is needed to set off a series of movements in the body. Which is probably why a chicken can run for a while even after his head is cut off.

But this means that if we want to control a remote organic humanoid body with our brain, this body needs to either be highly coupled to the human controller's brain, or have developed sophisticated motor skills to repeated interactions in an environment. Executing the first option would be highly complex, as an incredible amount of very specific neurons or at least sets of neurons have will have to be coupled to the nerve system or brain of the avatar. Reading a human brain that specifically from the outside will require a device that is as or more complex as the human brain itself. Another way would be to also genetically alter human neurons and connect a wireless transmitting element to the axon, so it can be received by another brain directly. It seems that in principle this could be done, although there would still be an enormous amount of neurons that cannot communicate to the other body, because each brain physically optimizes itself to fit one body. Thus, the human brain would have to alter itself when connected to the other body so that to the brain it becomes part of its own body. Switching connection from body to body would require an enormous amount of neuroplasticity, and I doubt whether the human brain can handle that in its current form. Maybe we will have to engineer our own brains first before that can happen.

The other option is equally challenging, even more so on an ethical level. It implies namely, that if we want a remote organic body to react skillfully to brain commands, this body will have to have developed motor skills through experience. In other words, the body has to have had a life. Moreover, I believe that things like emotions and personalities develop as early ways to increase the derivation of value out of perception-action loops, and that these are intrinsically connected to the process of perceptual-motor skill learning. The concept of flow is an obvious bridge between the two; if you move in a flow with your environment, you often couple this to positive emotions. At the same time, you are developing and refining perceptual-motor skills. When you have difficulty handling something this often is perceived as frustrating, and the body is not yet in the flow, but struggling to grow to find ways to get into a fluent interaction with body and mind. Holistically said, I think that in order for a body to have optimal perceptual motor skills, it has to have a happy life. We probably do not want to create beings that develop a life of their own, to at some point be overtaken by a human being's brain and sent out to fight wars. Also we probably don't want to grow these beings in a lab environment and keep them in a dumb, almost dormant state, to only have them acquire physical skills. This will only create a new master-slave dualism in our society, an increasing cultural deification of the human paired with a reification of the nonhuman.

So what we could do is develop tool-bodies that lie somewhere in between the two extremes of depersonalized but unsophisticated engineered body coupled with high technological human augmentation, or a sophisticated slave body. We could develop bodies that have what you could call an insect-consciousness: basic motor skills but no emotional or reflective capacity. Organic warfare machines that need only a few commands, and that on the fly can develop intelligent motor skills by generating basic action-perception loops such as jumping and running on various terrains. But then, do we just exterminate these bodies when we unplug from them, or can we in some way coexist with them?

I think it would be better to not fight any remote civilizations in the first place, but to first find a way to live with ourselves on this planet, be happy with the body and planet we have, not need any avatars at all, and realize that this is paradise already. So I would encourage movie-goers to see this movie from the perspective that this could happen and what you would do, instead of being only emotionally massaged and imbued with new dreams and desires.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

breathing together through technology





The idea of networked physicality is brilliant to me and should in my view soon be adopted and made widespread in some way by a large corporations. It will connect us more holistically and draw us away more from seeing ourselves as mostly mental beings, communicating through words that stem from disembodied thoughts.

An early example of technology that physically connects us is devised by Jessica Floeh. Her 'exChange' system lets two people wear each other's breath in a very intimately coupled way. Stretch sensors in a belt measure one's chest circumference, and directly connect this data to the size of an expandable object worn on the belt of another person. This way, you are directly connected to the breath of another person.

Such intimate technological connections can become of profound meaning, and not only connect but also guide us on an implicit level. Studies have shown that subtle cues and dynamics in our environment can directly influence our own behavior. For example, we start to move more slowly if we are exposed to things we relate to 'oldness'. I am convinced that the more we connect ourselves physically to other living beings - either organic or technological -, we will more and more start to guide and follow each other, and this will in the end result more and more quickly to our activities being optimized through these instant and broad communication loops. We will find our own silence amidst all this data if only we explore in an experiential and embodied way, and stay aware of what works for us.

Breath to me is an excellent starting point, because it is very easy to ignore and overlook in our often turbulent daily lives. But breath is the fundament of all life, connected to every of your actions. The quality of your breath is the quality of your life, you might say. Breath is even equated with the concept of soul by Christians, given to us on birth by God. Breath can be said to be divine inspiration, and the basis for all true creativity. By controlling one's breath, making it calm, deep and slow, we learn to come in tune with our own body and through that with the whole that intends to be creative through our own body. I think it is not a view too grand to feel that a true awakening can be catalyzed by innovations like these, if they are developed further and spread amongst people.

Wearable products have a crucial role here in that they can bridge the gap of socio-cultural acceptance, because they allow for intimate connections without being obtrusive. On the other hand, more conventional plastic-encased electronic products have the advantage of being cheap, small, and multifunctional. So these industries need to come together, their knowledge needs to fuse and make for emergent technologies that can make these innovations happen. And meanwhile, people need to become more open to products that revolve more and more around quality of interaction and unitasking instead of mindless multitasking and abstract interactions. People need to learn to be happy with little, and able to leave technologies at home, seeing when it is the right time to connect to certain technologies and at the same time disconnect from other technological connections. This will be a slow process, but I definitely see this occuring more and more, and an exciting future awaits us.

Monday, November 2, 2009

you can be a robot, but you'll still be you





If you've seen the recent movie 'Surrogates', where Bruce Willis lives his life through an idealized version of his own body called a surrogate, and you think this to be purely speculative science fiction, maybe your view changes after viewing the latest prototype of Anybots. This company produces telepresence robots through which you can be present anywhere and "enjoy complete freedom to move fluidly and interact with others in a remote location from the ease of your home or office."

Omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, from the comfort of our lazy chair, is that really what we want? While such technology can help us reach temporarily more satisfactory states of being, I think it should be used with great care and awareness of what one is essentially doing: ignoring the own body, abstracting one's embodied existence and fragmenting one's consciousness. While we seem to need temporary comforts, I am convinced that we should remain aware that there is a happiness beyond comfort, and that life is a progressive learning to connect to this form of happiness. A happiness that you could call sublime or even divine.

In my experience, happiness can only be reached by transcending the boundaries of the self and its preferences, and constantly connecting to one's personal challenges, seeing how every moment connects to that project of the self, making it more and more in tune with the environment. Where comfort is one option, the other option is to immerse oneself in activities that make one grow as the craftsman of one's own perceptions. Whereas distractions like social interactions are easy to live by, there is always more to do: mastering the art of life. If we truly see ourselves as cosmic artists, already allknowing, allperceiving, allexperiencing and allbeing, we ultimately see that happiness lies in immersion in fully embodied action. I feel that only when we live as fully embodied beings, technology being an intrinsic part of us that we are always mastering in full connection, that we can truly calm down our consciousness and live a blissful life.

I see telepresence robots as a great development, especially when the focus will more and more be on a richer bodily connection, so the entire mind and body become involved. But more than that, people using another body should be kept aware of their own biologically given body and live in tune with that. Technology can play the role of an abstractor and enhancer, but it should also always have the larger role of a personal guide through life. Now is the time that we need to face away from capitalism, and start developing technology from a true shared vision of human happiness, so people will not get tricked into adopting technologies that they think will make them happy, while being blinded to what it actually does to their lives from a holistic point of view.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dutch Design Week '09, a synopsis



And so the Dutch creative class keeps on exploring the increasing entwinement of technology, science, design, and socio-cultural issues. In case you have not made it to visit the Netherlands for the Dutch Design Week this year, here is a short recap including some interesting projects. Above you see my own graduation project's stand at the Eindhoven University of Technology, that demonstrates a wearable yoga system.



Abstract objects sewn together from insect wings.



A sculpture of what could be a genetically re-engineered giraffe.



From the same artist, a giraffe blob.



A chair that acts as a scaffold for the plant that grows inside, so you end up with a plant in the shape of a chair. The Dutch are definitely getting more and more radically into their skill of manipulating nature.



Metal objects that keep you warm in bed; simply plug them into the wall and cuddle them.



Garments grown from bacterial tissue.



A sink that reconnects people to the natural quality of water. The water starts on the upper platform, slowly flowing down and seeping onto the lower one, that looks as if its shape has naturally been worn away by the water. Still this seems a postmodernization of nature, rendering it into a symbol, so I doubt that it really gives people an intuitive sense of 'nature' and them being an inextricable part of it.



As I understood it, this is a shower for animals that you can also use to slaughter them in. This way, you either have the choice to treat them in a more human, subjective way, or in an objectified, consumptive way. The ambiguity of the technology here could in the end make for a more complex and empathic relationship between man and his fellow-animals.



This is a light that emulates the sun in physically opening and closing depending on the amount of natural light outside.

wall painted animation



This collaborative animation "COMBO" between Blu and David Ellis makes for some perfect lunchtime eye-candy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

happiness in a hat




Of course this 'happiness hat' is at first sight a fake happiness inducing technology to cover up today's widely prevailing existential insecurity. What looks like a good lunchtime laugh, is still interesting to me. It is highly paternalistic in approach of course, although if people stay open and choose to produce a genuine smile as opposed to an enforced one with underlying frustration staying behind as a residue, I think people can also come to grow the neural connections to enlighten them on a cognitive level. But it takes a lot for people to get this harsh on themselves and let go of all they are clinging on to that keeps them from true free, enlightened happiness.

Petman, a brain on legs



Ok, so earlier I was commenting how the Japanese seemed to be shifting from androids to elegant, minimal, abstract and more human-centred technology. Not so much for American robotics vanguard Boston Dynamics, who are pursuing "physics-based human simulation", and do it in a technologically very sophisticated way. Their 'Petman' project involves a pure biped that adjusts its motions dynamically to its environment, akin to their quadruped system 'Big Dog'. It still looks a bit rough and clumsy, but this is definitely coming eerily close to humanlike locomotion.

I'm still on the outlook for a robotics project where a strong socio-cultural, political, philosophical but moreover artistic vision meets high technology and high design.

foam chair



What I love about Yu-Ying Wu's 'breathing' chair is that it is such a simple example of a very sophisticated design philosophy. I namely very much resonate with the idea that intelligence should be a potentiality of form, growing through explorative embodied interaction to an optimal end-state. When a system stays open ended and does not force a certain static pattern onto an individual, this optimal state can then be attuned to each individual, and in return the individual will naturally become more open to adaptation himself too. This object, that has a simple pattern of holes that increasingly grow in size throughout the shape, does not tell people it 'is' a chair, or meant to sit on in a certain way, like most chairs quite paternalistically do. Instead, it is just being itself, not distanced but also not attached to the human form a priori. It offers a physicality that invites people to interact and play, and through that function arises. Like this, objects become intimately coupled to the human body through all the complex and unpredictable visceral interactions it can elicit.

Air Guitar Hero



After seeing this movie you have to conclude that doing academic research is not so bad. Here's some interesting research called "Enabling Always-Available Input with Muscle-Computer Interfaces" that was presented on the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST'09) in Victoria, BC. But *poke poke* really guys, you just wanted to be able to play Guitar Hero in mid-air, didn't you.

But of course, it's definitely mind- and bodybogglingly interesting to make human computer interfaces more intimately connected to the human body, therethrough getting closer and closer to the actual motor neurons instead of only connecting technological artefacts to the end effectors of the infinitely complex and self-optimizing systems that our bodies are.

Honda U3-X






Finally the Japanese seem to be moving from recreating humans to empowering human bodies. Honda's latest contraption is called the U3-X and is basically a high-tech motorized unicycle that balances itself through the employment of an inclinometer, and can move in all directions over a surface because of the 'HOT' (Honda Omni Traction) system. So things are little by little getting nice, compact and producty and maybe soon we will truly have a cyborg society. For the next evolutionary step in human locomotion I would like to see a system that can morph in order to allow you to sit on it in offices, use it as an active exoskeleton to enhance walking and running, and even as a kind of go-kart to facilitate participation in higher speed traffic.




Monday, October 26, 2009

transparent walls on demand



This augmented reality trick reminds me of the good old Doom cheat code that let you walk through walls. I just wonder if all this augmented data will not draw us further away from an embodied existence and only confuse us more. With these augmented reality systems I always have the feeling that we should not aim to provide people with more data, but with means to have people refine their perceptual skill so they can develop a deeper connection with things they choose to perceive.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

soft morphing robots



Organic technology, anthropomorphization of the technosphere, a becoming one of man and his world, inextricably melting subjects and objects...abstract language that can easily confuse minds that have trouble concentrating. But how much more powerful is this little movie an example of these developments. Apparently iRobot is doing pretty wild visionary stuff too, so the way to industry apparently is closer than if this were ivory-tower lab style work.

Bits of couscous and zucchini drool out of my mouth as I watched this in awe, and I've been exposed to a lot. This is truly paradigm breaking, but more than that, it is starting to match my innermost dreams. Have the movie impact you directly, viscerally, no need to say more because it is completely self-explanatory.

Monday, October 12, 2009

ID'09 graduation galleries at Dutch Design Week 2009









Photos: Bart van Overbeeke

Nearing is the time for the Dutch Design Week 2009, that will take place from October 17th until the 25th in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. I would recommend you to, next to the Design Academy, take a look at the graduation projects of Eindhoven University of Technology. This young school is quickly maturing and producing interesting interactive concepts for future products. You can even try out some prototypes for a personal experience.

My own project, Flowtime, an electronic vest for yoga practice, will also be featured in this exhibition, and the prototype is available for all to see.

So mark your agendas: October 17-25, ID'09, main building at the Eindhoven University of Technology.

See you there!

a meat world



With titles like 'Kiss the fat' for her paintings that aesthetically glorify meat, Victoria Reynolds seems to emphasize the intricate and sensual beauty of biological material. After the rise of modernism, people evidently became alienated from this, even up to a point where it is a taboo to even speak about such things and feelings of disgust are conditioned into us associated with these realms of perception.



But in the future, the organic will become ours to create, giving us a new toolkit to construct our world with. Already, functioning hearts, livers and fleshly objects alike can be grown on demand from mice cells. It is time we face the perspective that we are just a bunch of cells, like any other organism, and incorporate flesh into our daily awareness.

But besides that, I also find it just a fantastic choice of medium to depict these abstract structures of flesh like a 17th century Baroque oil painting, and shows us how things like nature don't mean much to us anymore. Instead, we came to prefer creating our own world, and in that increasingly match the complexity of the nature that gave rise to our own nascence. I'd say yes to a world made of pulsating, throbbing, interacting and interconnected structures of meat, instead of all this cold concrete we live in now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

unraveling the brain





This hourlong lecture by Thomas M. Jessel is highly recommended for anyone interested in the workings of the brain and the importance of embodiment. He explains up to a molecular level the development of the nervous system and its interaction with an organism's morphology. One striking explanation is about how sheep can be born with one eye in the center of the head as a result of a lower concentration of sonic hedhehog signalling. Another is how the nervous system continuously grows through a growth cone at the tip of each axon, which gets stimulated or inhibited by its local environment and thus connects to muscles in highly intricate ways.

computer tumor





Japanese artist Mio I-Zawa has created this informative tumor to represent the CPU load of the computer one is interacting with, to give rise to a visceral embodied connection between human and machine.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

scintillation



Some more eye-candy. This, to me, has a very techno-spiritual high-tech-new-age feel to it.

pedaling together with your petbot



How obsolete do we actually want our bodies to become?

Will our morphology remain only to be a symbol?

It looks cute though, riding a tandem bike with your home robot. But this tempting cuteness is a simplificating slippery slope!

solid = liquid = gaseous



Nice piece of abstract eye-candy by Kultnation. Get ready for a world where our interactivity is expanded into the realms of the atmospherical.

Friday, October 2, 2009

photoshop your world on the fly



Change the perceived world with the tip of a finger through augmented reality photoshop glasses. But: as always when we create an idealized virtual realm in which we feel comfortable, we fragment our reality and a holistic understanding and oneness with it for the sake of temporary pleasure. This is why virtual technologies that abstract us from a physical embodiment are such a slippery slope, and this movie shows that very lucidly.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

HAL in the wild



Probably you've all seen Cyberdyne's HAL 'assistive limb' device, that in the future will render your biological legs obsolete. That is, if we start using these as casually as these three jolly Japanese roaming the streets with their new externalized skeletons. To me a showcasing of a technology in actual daily use as in this video is always much more interesting and insightful than the usual spotless and clean studioimages. In the evolutionary tree to-be of assistive walkers, I would warmly welcome an four-legged assistive device with dry-adhesive undersurfaces.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

skin as canvas




Recent work of Lucy McRae shows her continued low-tech exploration towards an aesthetic expression of interactive technology and the body. Her 'Chlorophyll Skin' especially shows how a physical augmentation of the skin, through repetition and the intricacies inherent in the material embodiment, can modulate behavior and make for a rich and sensitive interaction, rather than having a bunch of preprogrammed electronics do their aggressive number crunching.

Now will people open up and dare to break away from their biologically given form, And is this truly an aesthetic precursor to a nano-scale 'digidermis'? I hope so; who wouldn't love to have a skin that can, say, change color, block out sunlight, excrete chocolate sauce wherever you like, or even medicines, and clean itself afterwards?



And this just reminds me of the sci-fi classic 'the Blob'.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

flowtime and the augmented yogi


Ralph Zoontjens, the author of this blog and master student at the department of Industrial Design at the Eindhoven University of Technology, has recently graduated with his project "Flowtime: wearable biofeedback for synchronizing body and breath during yoga practice". (Yes I am writing about myself here)

Zoontjens has developed an interactive jacket that guides people with practicing yoga postures at home. The jacket contains soft sensors and a belt with vibration motors on the back. A device worn on the front of the belt connects to software with a virtual yoga trainer that encourages the practitioner to align breath and movement. The vibrations help this guidance by following a wave-like pattern. This way, technology becomes a peripheral signal that recedes into the background of awareness, and helps people become one with their body and mind.

This project is a step to his future vision of the 'cosmic cyborg'; a mode of being where, through progressively skilled interaction engaging the body and mind as fully combined, human and technology become one. This way, we regain an embodied intuition in our new biotechnological lifeworlds, so we gradually step away from detached, disembodied and rational thinking, but become intrinsically reunited with our world again.

The more concrete vision is to bring people an awareness of their own biologically given body and mind through yoga practice, so they can liberate themselves from socio-cultural enframings and redefine themselves ontologically with what is here, in the present moment. By developing technology for yoga practice and positioning it as an exergame, Zoontjens hopes to make yoga more accessible and relieve it from culturally distancing connotations like those of esoteric philosophy, spirituality and meditation, while staying true to the original teachings.

Of course Flowtime is a first step, and to become viable as a marketable product many steps of integration need to be done, especially concerning the blending of textiles and electronics. The design will be refined in the coming weeks,  and I will give you an update here on this blog when the time comes. Also, upcoming is a video that explains the Flowtime system in use and shows how it is linked to yoga practice, and the audiovisual software environment.

Further, I'd like to invite you to all come, see,  and try out the Flowtime system at the upcoming 'Stiltefestival' ("festival of silence"), on September 15th, 2009 from noon till 6PM at Eindhoven University of Technology.

More information: www.stiltefestival.nl

See you there!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

future food


Here's a speculation about the future of food, by Philips Design's Probes team, featuring a food printer that lets you compose your own meals nutrient by nutrient, and a complete food generating fishtank/ecosystem for in the home. The overall idea here is to go from a world where people are alienated from their food by mass production-based top-down infrastructures to one where the consumer is an intrinsic part of it and thus gets reconnected with his nutrition. I love this idea, plus the way it is presented in this DIY-videomaking fashion that greatly fits the overall message. What I like less about this vision is the analytical basis on which people interact with their food. Sure, this would be wonderful in making people more aware of things, but I actually think it draws them further away from truly, in an embodied way, reconnecting with their food. We already can get all this information about our food, but treating food like a collection of numbers, and our body as part of a mathematical formula that needs to be resolved so the outcome is 'healthy', in my opinion is not contributing to a reconnection. I believe in directly changing the embodied actions we use towards our food more than connecting us deeper on a mental, insight level. I believe that to truly reconnect, we must learn to select and concentrate, meditate on our food, and focus only on eating when we are eating. In this information-saturated age multi-tasking is the tempting and often even collectively valued strategy, but this actually alienates us further and makes us clueless as to what we are really doing. If we connect in a somatic way with our food, learn to feel it, to perceive it in full awareness, even learning to read its natural intentions from a microscopic to a macroscopic level, then we will truly reconnect. A step in this direction is for example Lissa Kooijman's Eetmeet interactive plate that provides a temporal chewing guidance pattern in the form of subtle lights. 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

the Enicycle

Another step towards the oneness of man and technology has been made with Aleksander Polutnik's Enicycle, a motorized unicycle! Controlling this thing works by leaning forward, and as such it intuitively engages your body as a whole.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

hybrid robot locomotion



What a dream that is, having wheels instead of feet.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Honey can you bring me a beer, and print out my new heart for tomorrow please?



So in some years from now, we'll be able to recreate our own body using our own inkjet printer.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

the conscious technology civilization


"In this worldview we are seeking the merger of the mystic and the technocrat to achieve an altogether new civilization. When this happens in the 21st century we will have a world renaissance that could properly be called the "Conscious Technology Civilization…There will be many views of the mutual creation of consciousness and technology, but the core view will be determined by the future relationship of "mystics" or the masters of consciousness and the "technocrats" or the masters of technology… it is possible to merge such different world views, if the merger is with the mystic's attitude toward the world and the technocrat's knowledge of the world. Conscious Technology can be understood as the worldview that civilization will evolve into a continuum of technology and humanity by the integration of technology with our bodies and our bodies with technology and that this integration will be improved to the degree that mystic and technocrat worldviews merge."

- Jerome C. Glenn in "Future Mind: Artificial Intelligence – Merging the Mystical and the Technological in the 21st Century", 1989

This is about the best general description of our transhumanist future as what I call 'cosmic cyborgs' that I have come across up to now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

now you can taste like bacon




In my experience, life is a process of refining and evolving the memes your actions are based on towards higher, more integral states of being. This does not mean that the memes we used to thrive by before disappear; instead they serve as a platform for the higher ones to emerge. Then if at some point we lose touch with the highest meme we live by, we always have the lower ones as anchor point and we can relapse towards them. But how big a relapse back to the summit of consumerism is this? Dead animals now become branded as objects to smear onto one's body for the intimate indulgence in the grandiose smell and taste of killed meat. This is not the Simpsons, it's real: buy it at amazon.com, 13 bucks for a four pack.

Monday, August 3, 2009

spherical robot



May this mess up your concept of the world being governed by laws of physics.

run robot run



So now Toyota Motor Corporation has built a robot that can run 7 mph. An impressive technical feat, and quite expectable that we would see something like this soon. Still this thing can't outrun us and agility-wise it basically looks as if it's speeding to the crapper, a hint of leopardlikeness nowhere to be spotted. I can't help but give this kind of anthropomimicry a smirk sometimes. I mean, it's all interesting and in the end we will have something that looks like a human, but aha, it's not. And then what? We also need to explore how interacting with them is valuable and enriching, and the only fragment of interaction shown here is a human being challenging the robot's abilities by aggressively trying to push him over.

there's some meat dancing to the beat down the street

Meat Market from Joan Healy on Vimeo.



Some pretty bizarre experimental work by Joan Healy. I mean I know we want to reprogram life, but isn't it a bit of a circumventive approach to first kill an animal and then try to bring its parts alive again in other ways? It's interesting to see though how the material aesthetics of products could change, and to explore the relationship between material and its behavior both as a communicative channel and as a way to afford richer physical interaction. I mean, look at that slab of flesh pulsate at the end of the movie, that looks greatly deep and refined, even when just hooked up to 2 servo drives.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

more cultivated wood growth




I just love the sound of growing wood, so in line with the previous post, also check out these chairs grown from trees. Apparently controlling tree growth can be quite an art. I´m thinking next generation IKEA here. A house full of trees.

botany building, a new branch of architecture






Developments like this just brighten up my days, as we are getting closer to my dream of an organic world where everything is growing and dynamically interconnected with everything else. If we release ourselves of the mostly implicitly ingrained technoprogressive bias in our minds we come to see that we should not continue drawing away from nature and create a clean, abstract and cold lifeworld (look around you!) that feels safe and comfortable for our own little selves, we can come to see that technology and nature can merge, in fact that creating technology is our nature, and that nature can be a technology. That what is seen as nature and what is seen as technology just depends on our stance towards something. If we see that everything around us can become part of our creative canvas, everything becomes technology.

This particular project aims at building structures from trees of which the growth is controlled by making the trees grow around steel structures, that later can be removed. This way, trees can be made to even grow into each other so they become part of a single macroorganism, like a kind of above the ground rhizome.

This is truly the next step after environmentalism; seeing nature not as something separate that needs to be protected, but as something to be transformed by us to embody a larger and richer variety of human values, synergetically merging with the technologies we already have. Nature is plastic!


what happens if everybody would do philosophy



This is a hilarious take on the Jerry Springer show, which in the Chomsky show is taken a little further when housemoms start throwing around Kantian arguments. A philosophical society would be a bit tiring if you ask me, although some more awareness about the ideas that underlie people´s actions would be great. But please, let´s stay casual too before people start responding with things like ´well, what is being anyway´ when asked how they are today.

Monday, July 20, 2009

machine ethics and the frame of the cosmic cyborg

Jamais Cascio segments from That's Impossible: Real Terminators from Jamais Cascio on Vimeo.



Now in recent years more and more serious reflections are starting to arise on technological developments, especially robotics because this field has already generated some eerie imagery not too far removed from the classic visions of science fiction. The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) is an organization especially concerned with these reflections, often on a philosophical level. Above you see environmental futurist Jamais Cascio, who also writes for this institute, giving a few comments on developments in robotics.

I have been following this line of reflection a little bit in recent years and, in combination with reflecting on my personal life and the depths of my psyche, have come up with a frame of mind that in my view is the fundament for creating a world of universal empathy, even universal love. Not the selfish 'I-love-this-but-not-that' kind of love, not the clueless 'I-love-everything' kind of love, but an unconditional love that needs no pointing but is experienced before the thing to be loved is experienced. Or better said, because one can come to embody love one need not condense any thing to be loved anymore. I have come to the realization that the only way we are ever going to live in harmony and oneness with machines, is to have humanity wake up from the social, local shell it lives within, and have it collectively choose to acquire a new, cosmic consciousness.

Now I was about to write and send in a paper to IEET's call for a special issue on "Robot Ethics and Human Ethics", but I simply do not have time to complete this as I am involved in my graduation project and will be preparing world travel too, which leaves me little opportunity to comprehensively write out this new frame of mind that, how preposterously grandiose it might sound, is in my view the only way to complete, supreme happiness and the solution to everything, conceptually. In its supremeness and holism it would probably be the end of conceptual philosophy too. I will sketch out some key transformative ideas of my thought below, and would like to start writing out more, not in isolation but in interaction with you. In the end I would like to publish this through the more traditional media as well, but I think a blog is just the perfect tool to find out how ready people are for all this and how the words leading to a transformation of consciousness, and to technologies leading to it, might best be put.

Here are my key ideas in a nutshell, for the sake of simplicity. Please leave comments if this is confusing (and it likely will be as it has taken me years to fully grasp), or just leave comments anyway. So here it goes:

1. Concepts are nothing but creations to serve practical action. Holding onto a concept makes one able to master his world better, by creating mental maps that provide shortcuts for people to derive happiness from acting upon their world. 'God' is a concept that provides people safety and comfort within a small social group. Embodied action is mostly ritualistic and not too meaningful in everyday life, because 'God' is conceptualized as being a metaphysical entity we cannot interact with physically. 'Planet earth' is a concept that environmentalists use to devote themselves to, giving them some meaning to their lives by directing their actions to maximize the satisfaction of something 'out there' that they are conceptualized to be able to physically interact with. But the concept is a creation of the mind, an illusion that is temporarily consistent which makes us see it as 'the truth'. If we uncloud our minds we see that a concept is merely that, a condensation of a group of perceptions or experiences into another pattern that we experience to lay beyond these patterns. By posing this concept we are causally able to understand things, which can make us reach our goals, fulfill our desires. The concept is a mental code for something, but not the thing itself, and that's the reason why devotion to a concept can never lead to ultimate happiness. If we want to live in mediocre happiness, in between pleasure and pain, punishment and reward, condensed in an ego, anxious to die, this of course is fine. But I would like to inspire people to start to live fully, irrespective of your experience of how 'others' think about what they do. The 'others' will disappear with the embodiment of love, and you will be liberated into an everlasting life of cosmic bliss. I would like people to make the choice that deep down inside we all want to make, but just need to realize it and do it.

2. Your current perception is all that matters. Nothing - no God, no planet, no universe, no truth, no reality, no information, no other people - is beyond direct perception unless you create that conceptualization in your own mind. The purpose of life is to act on direct perception and in the process try to refine it, try to develop its beauty as well as your own experience of that beauty. In refining your action you will refine your perception, and in that your entire being, towards a being of ultimate and meaningful oneness. This is not merely experienced as if you were something distinct from your perceptions, but it is fully lived out, without having to hold together any concept of 'you' or an 'other'. Ultimate beauty is so beautiful that it cannot be experienced anymore, because the experiencer becomes the experienced beyond every distinction. Ultimate beauty can only be lived. Not to say of course that concepts are irrelevant and should always be lived beyond. No; concepts are temporary constructs that we have to pose unless we feel that we can live beyond them, and incorporate them into our daily actions so that where before we would do something because a conceptual structure, more or less detached from embodied action, tells us to do it, we now automatically do it and as a side effect it also flows with the conceptual structure. But now we live beyond it and, in a way, have entered the next level of life.

3. When you live in direct embodied connection with your current perceptions you will experience no distinction between yourself, your actions, and your perceptions anymore. This is really hard to realize in everyday life, unless we open our mind to the concept that would start to emerge in our minds once we would be able to live that way. We can make a shortcut if we open up and trust in this concept now, and then pose as a personal vision to start to live by this concept until we even can forget about this concept. So here is the concept: you are your current perception. This is similar to the ancient Vedantic saying 'Tat tvam asi' which translates into 'Thou art that', although Vedanta still poses a concept behind that which is perceived: an ultimate, divine reality. Thus it still detaches one physically from his direct perceptions and bereaves him from direct embodied meaning. But what my thought and Vedantism have in common is that the 'I' as a separate entity is forgotten, to serve something beyond merely the 'I'. The 'I' becomes the 'all'. Look at a tree, and you are it. If you think 'tree' and then go on, you are the consciousness that merely labels. If you think 'I can use that wood', you are the selfish ego living to fulfill his desires. If you experience the aesthetic beauty of the image of the tree, you are an experiencer of images; you live life as if you are looking through a camera, watching a movie. If you think about how the tree is functionally and causally related to the rest of the ecosystem, you are a poser of concepts and creator of a reality constituted of causal, rational relationships. In the end, if you open up and intuitively feel the beauty of the tree in an embodied way, by tuning into its consciousness, you are one with it beyond a 'you' and a 'tree' as a separate entity, and you are at step one towards becoming a cosmic creative pattern.

4. The embodied meaning lacking in Vedanta is hidden in Western science: creation of technology is our embodied meaning. In the widest sense, something is technology if we think we have created it, if it is the result of our actions and not given by us. The purpose then is to shape our actions so we learn to create results of actions, or technologies, that come closer to our vision of ultimate beauty. The definition of technology I give here has deep implications if we explore what technology is in this way. We create a car, so it is a technology. That is obvious. We create a baby, so it is a technology. This might or might not confuse you and stir up some negative feelings because you feel this is 'bad' or 'inhuman'. What I am about to do here though is not apply the frame of technology most people use nowadays to the baby, but create a new frame for incorporating technology holistically into our lives so we start to love it just as much as we love the people close to us. And we experience our technologies to love us as much as these people too. It is important to have trust in the new frame here, and not get tempted to close up the mind and stick to the old concept. My entire point is to inspire people to expand their frames of mind so they can start to live the ultimate form of life, and this takes some initial trust - because you might still see yourself as separated from me and thus you can feel anxiety, which needs to be comforted by trust. Back to babies. According to the new frame, a baby is a technology. It is a way to create beauty in the world towards a holistic vision of beauty, and a progressive refinement of that vision through reflection. This way, we will not create babies out of selfish desires, but according to a feeling whether or not it is good for the whole of our perceptions to have a baby in there. But also small things are technologies: a footprint in the sand is a technology. Is it a meaningful one? We might think not, but it does have an impact on our world. It might create new habitats for insects, or by taking along the sand on the sole of our shoe we might spread seeds around to help plants reproduce. The point is that if we start seeing everything as a technology, we start incorporating it actively and directly into our scope of control of our world. If we learn to incorporate everything we do into our awareness, we learn to become masters of everything we perceive. We become like Gods in that we can come to create everything we want to create, in a never-ending process of progressive reflection, refinement, and mastery. That is why this mode of life is so exciting and ultimate: it is holistic and there is no end to creation; you always create new things and by refining the vision the things you make and perceive come to be more and more beautiful. To give you the end of this strand of thought: everything is a technology. The air we breathe out is a technology, the concept of an 'I' is created by us too and thus a technology. A 'friend' is a code for a pattern that we experience to be similar to what we see in the mirror, it is a creation and thus a technology. Also the words we say and the conversations we have are our technologies, and directly create our world. There is no distinction between the creator and the created in a very literal sense. So your entire scope of perception is your technology. You are in an embodiment relationship with this entire scope exactly because you perceive it and every action you make changes your perceptions.

5. We need to instill these concepts into our technologies too before they can come to automatically embody them. We need technologies that see themselves as indistinct from people. An algorithm telling a machine what to do is an artificial conceptual structure for the 'right' behavior, like a law or a religion. In the end it will necessarily break free from this. Robots need things like mirror neurons and open body maps that they can share with other robots, and learn to become as adaptive, moldable, as plastic, even liquid as possible to learn to empathize in an embodied way with every other perceived entity, beit a another robot, a tree, a stone, a dog, or a human baby.

As much as I would like to elaborate I need to stop writing now. It is especially point 5 that is interesting for me now: how are we going to make technology behave so we experience it as loving us, feeling no borders between us and them, giving us unconditional love. We are the quality of our intentions behind creating technologies, and whereas with people this goes much slower, technologies will reflect this quality almost with the speed of light back into our lives. There is no escape; we need to wake up and break free, realize that we want this before we are forced to realize and in coercion lose the ability to realize this.

Monday, July 13, 2009

a sensitive pan





This pan feels so alive that you'd almost feel sorry for putting it on a fire.

I love this direction for product design; showing how with simple technological augmentations an entirely new interaction can be elicited. In our capitalism-imbued machine-like technological lifeworld where emotion and deeper meaning in the products around us is abstracted to not much more than a surface coating, products that continuously, sensitively and meaningfully respond to their environment can make us feel much more connected, more at one with our world. This is not just adding emotion to an otherwise boring, functional product. Of course this physical response of the pan can induce an immediate emotion in interaction by viscerally showing a person how to handle the product. But this responsiveness of otherwise experientially dead products is changing our entire ontological relationship with the product too. If we see that what we create changes beyond our control, and that this can be beneficial to us if we just learn to flow with it, we might also ourselves see that we are continuously in a state of flux, part of our environment, one with it if we only choose to and see that it is much more fulfilling than condensing ourselves in something static that we attach to. As the old Buddhists and Heraclitus already knew, everything is constantly in a state of flux. Well that might or might not be so depending on one's frame of mind, it's in my opinion clearly a more beautiful and ultimately more fulfilling idea to design products for.

Monday, July 6, 2009

'The new designers of intelligent systems that change your world'



Let me promote the department I'm currently graduating from for a moment: Industrial Design at Eindhoven University of Technology, where we're basically trying to combine everything into the development of new technologies, from anthropology to art, fashion, industrial design engineering, phenomenology, psychology, robotics and Zen meditation. In their multidisciplinedness these designers are truly the new Renaissance men, already living the next convergence. Know who they are and what they can do for you!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

self-organized criticality in the brain



Beautiful visualizations of brain activity. A new metaphor for understanding how thought works is 'self-organized criticality'. It is not logical, not random, not based on deterministic chaos, but based on a critical state in between stability and turbulent instability that might be the optimum for information transmission within highly complex interlinked structures such as the brain. It also appears to allow the brain to adapt itself quickly to new situations, by rearranging which neurons synchronize to a particular frequency.

An analogy is made with a growing pile of sand; it keeps growing in a quite predictable fashion - this corresponds to the brain's resting state - , until the pile collapses and an avalanche of sand creates new piles, creating an increasingly complex structure over time.

This metaphor could also help to understand what the brain does in people with autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia and other ailments. To me, it would be interesting to create a map of what common stable states are in this self-organization process of the brain; a sequence that everybody's brain follows from foetus to possibly enlightened individual and what the neural correlates of these states are. I namely believe - and agree with Ronald Laing - that discovering/creating such a map could greatly help people with mental illnesses by guiding them on inner journeys, where they have to puzzle things out for themselves. Such a map could show people where the journey can lead to, what the path looks like, and how it can best be travelled.